Introducing Ken Wilber

One of the most readable introductions to Ken Wilber’s integral theory and philosophy of spiritual evolution is only available on the Internet. If you haven’t discovered Wilber’s columns on BeliefNet yet, here are the links so you can peruse them. These articles are best read in order.

  1. “Who is Ken Wilber?” by scholar Jack Crittenden.

    Wilber’s approach does nothing less than offer a coherent integration of virtually every field of human knowledge…. art to poetry, empiricism to hermeneutics, cognitive science to meditation, evolutionary theory to idealism. In every case he assembles a series of sturdy and reliable, not to say irrefutable, orienting generalizations… Wilber then arranges these truths into chains or networks of interlocking conclusions…

  • “An Integral Spirituality” by Ken Wilber — an excellent overview of the integral approach to religion and spirituality
  • “Why Do Religions Teach Love and Yet Cause So Much War?” by Ken Wilber — a piece that doesn’t quite answer the title question, but lays the foundation for a fuller response … introduces the concept of angles (a.k.a. perspectives or quadrants)
  • “Which Level of God Do You Believe In?” by Ken Wilber — an introduction to the concept of stages of religion
  • “The Four Hands of God” by Ken Wilber — goes into more depth on the concept of angles, and begins to sketch the principle of AQAL (starting with the notion that no angle can be reduced to any other angle)If these columns peak your interest, check out the links on this blog’s sidebar under the Integral Blogs and Integral Links sections, including Ken Wilber’s own website and the Integral Institute.I have yet to meet Ken face to face, but I’m looking forward to visiting the Integral Institute before too long. The way that I see Wilber is as a modern-day intellectual and mystic with a body of work that is worthy of comparison to Hegel, Freud, and Buddha. To put it in mythic language, Wilber’s integral theory is the “new hope” in an age dominated by the Dark Lords of Nietzschean postmodern relativism and the neo-medieval MacIntyrian apostles of old Jedi-like traditionalism. May there be balance in the Force forthcoming!

Spokane mayor Jim West … and Integral AIDS policy

Kelly from Seattle writes via e-mail:

I’d be interested in how you view Mayor West’s writings on gay.com, as excerpted in the Spokesman-Review. Frankly, to me, he comes across as a tragic figure, trying to be as forthright, sexual and honest as he can be within the world view and life situation he has cornered himself in – so very much like conflicted closeted gay men of an older generation…still VERY fucked up, no doubt very hurtful to other gays in his public policies, but a tragic figure nonetheless…

I also see West as a tragic figure, a victim of the intense homophobia and repressed sexuality of the culture, a carrier of internalized fear and loathing for decades, and (if the reports be true) ultimately the perpetrator of despicable moral crimes against children, the people of Spokane, and–through legislative violence–the entire gay community of Washington state.

That said, I also feel that the most vicious and vitriolic attacks against West in the gay community (e.g., anti-West attacks in the blogosphere on sites such as this one) are misplaced precisely because many gays see the deplorable hypocrisy in West, but they don’t really get the tragedy.I think West’s tragic nature comes out in his published comments in the Gay.com chat room. He clearly doesn’t consider himself one of us. Many gays don’t want to claim him as one of us. But to think of West as tragic, ultimately we must come to identify with him through our common humanity and a sense of compassion; and for West to heal his deep homophobia, he must do the same.

Kelly also writes:

Kudos on the six stages of Rising Up, incidentally. Working in HIV policies for quite a while, been trying to formulate a perspective that does not condemn, merely moralize, or “judge” (in the worst sense of the verb) but nonetheless points to a higher or more ‘mature’ gay-culture? MSM [men who have sex with men] set of values? That is, that points to a higher ethic or perspective, and thus downgrades by comparison an ethic of ‘more sex is good’, limits on sexual activity are per se bad (beyond limits that mrely avoid urting another, narrowly conceived).

I can see from your comments above and in the attached e-mails that you are striving to approach HIV policy issues from an integral perspective. Mucho kudos to you. Full steam ahead!

You’ve exactly hit the mark on the hardest cultural issue in AIDS education: how do we cultivate an ethic that imposes limits on sexual activity in a gay/MSM male culture that is highly resistant (for some very good reasons, mind you) to moralism, condemnations, and guilt around sexuality? And I think you’re on target with the approach: a developmental perspective that encourages a “higher” or more “mature” perspective without harsh condemnations that would be extremely counter-productive.

Bear in mind that it may not be possible to accomplish the objectives of HIV policy without making moral judgments or condemnations of some kind. Therefore, to be most effective, part of the educational work should involve encouraging people to look at their attitudes and beliefs around morality, judgments, and guilt. When people get clear for themselves that there’s both good guilt and bad guilt–and there are ways to be morally judicious without being moralistically judgmental–then the other important work of reframing values in a developmental way (e.g., moving sexual behavior from less to greater maturity) becomes easier.

Is Integral inherently arrogant?

David thinks so. He left a comment that said in part:

Geez, thanks ever so much for deigning to step momentarily off the slopes of Olympus to correct the unwashed, unintegrated, underevolved lot of us. You may have good cause to take issue with Andrew Sullivan’s appraisal of matters, but at least he manages to make his case without sounding as if he wishes the rest of us would stop dragging our knuckles on the ground.

I’m sure this is going to be a popular sort of response, so I’ll try to speak to the soon-to-be-FAQ now, and thereafter refer to this post. I’m not worried about appearing arrogant. This writer accuses me of being arrogant and dismissive of others opinions, but seems pretty dismissive himself, don’t you think? Lord forbid anyone deign to question the almighty value he apparently places on not appearing to be arrogant.

And as for slapping labels on people, Sullivan does it all the time. Like all pundits, he makes a career of it. Lately he’s been going on about conservatives of faith and conservatives of doubt. About a decade ago, he wrote a book that slapped labels on prohibitionists, liberals, conservatives, and liberationists–and guess what, his own opinion came out on top. How arrogant is that! We all slap labels on people: Democrat and Republican, red and blue, conservative and liberal, progressive and reactionary, the orthodox and the heretics. My labels stem from my philosophies and yours stem from yours.

I know there are various risks to using labels (hedonist, traditionalist, rationalist, etc.), but I don’t know how to effectively communicate an integral vision without taking those risks. From a holistic perspective, these labels are stages of evolutionary development, aspects of individual and cultural development that exist within all things. For example, virtually every person over the age of 12 or 13 contains a hedonistic level of consciousness in their psyche. So it should be stressed that we all include all of these labels, in actuality or potentiality.

From another perspective, these labels are ideal types, and it should be noted that no individual fits only into one type or another. When I attach a label to a person’s writing on cultural or political issues, it is because I have detected certain themes, values, and ways of communicating that are endemic to a particular stage of development, and I am calling that out to consciousness for the purposes of cultural criticism.

Finally, it should be noted that the suggestion that a given individual’s writing is at, say, a rationalist level of development doesn’t preclude the possibility that the person himself may have higher levels of development–pluralistic, integral, and trans-rational–very much alive within him.

I am looking at the writing and pointing out where I think the author’s “center of gravity” or “base camp” is, if such an observation would be helpful for elucidating the issues in the discussion at hand. In my judgments or guesses, I may be wrong. I may be right. That’s a wholly separate issue from whether it is the height of arrogance to employ a developmental model as a tool for social criticism. I will continue to do so, because it’s the best and truest model I know to describe what’s really going on in the world. I don’t think it’s inherently arrogant, but if it is, so be it.

Is Star Wars good spirituality?

The greatest cosmic spirituality drama of our era with super cool light sabers is back. Star Wars: Episode III is out, it’s good, and it’s a big hit.That the film is deeply spiritual is not in question (George Lucas himself described his intention to “awaken a certain kind of spirituality in young people” and loaded the film with not-too-subtle allusions to Buddhism, Taoism, and Christianity.)

But audiences will ultimately judge for themselves. Will the spiritual influence of this massive pop culture icon be for good or ill? With the final film of the six now in release, folks around the Web have begun to weigh in. Here are a few highlights:

  • Apparently inspired to use Anakin Skywalker’s loose morals as an instrument of instruction, a traditionalist reviewer/preacher at Hollywood Jesus identifies related Bible passages and calls out the spiritual lessons of the movie. For example:

    It is obvious what kind of life develops out of trying to get your own way all the time: repetitive, loveless, cheap sex; a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage; frenzied and joyless grabs for happiness; trinket gods; magic-show religion; paranoid loneliness; cutthroat competition; all-consuming-yet-never-satisfied wants; a brutal temper; an impotence to love or be loved; divided homes and divided lives; small-minded and lopsided pursuits; the vicious habit of depersonalizing everyone into a rival; uncontrolled and uncontrollable addictions; ugly parodies of community. I could go on.

Repetitive, loveless, cheap sex? Excuse me, I must have dozed through that scene. The message in the movie’s “spiritual connections,” if I understand correctly, is that Star Wars needn’t be bad for spirituality if Christians learn the right lessons from the morals of the characters.

  • Jeffrey Weiss discusses the film’s “quasi-religious mishmash” in this story for the Dallas News. Reg Grant, professor at Dallas Theological Seminary takes a traditional perspective when he says:

    “The Force is part of a cultural wedge of moral relativism, said Reg Grant, professor of pastoral ministries at Dallas Theological Seminary. It has no explicit God behind it and no absolute moral code, he said.”

Explicit Gods. Absolute Moral Codes. These are required in order to avoid Moral Relativism. Star Wars is bad for spirituality.

  • Interestingly, the reviewer behind the traditionalist/rationalist Office for Film and Broadcasting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops takes a different stance on relativism in the same movie. The USCCB writes of the movie’s arch villain:

    “Palpatine embodies the danger of modern relativism professing that ‘good is a point of view’ and that ‘narrow dogmatic views’ stunt true enlightenment.”

    Despite their differences in opinion, both the Catholic bishops and professor Grant demonstrate a preoccupation with moral relativism and issues of good and evil, elements of the traditionalist meme of discourse. The bishops note that the movie could be interpreted as a “smorgasbord of Jungian psychology, Manichean dualism and New Age mysticism,” but conclude in the end that it’s just an “old-fashioned tale of good versus evil.” Overall, the bishops give the movie an “A-II” rating, meaning that it’s suitable for adults and teens.

  • On BeliefNet, there is a collection of tidbits from readers of various faiths explaining how their spirituality is reflected by Star Wars. A standout is the contribution by a “Jedi Realist” who says:

    I am a Jedi (not in the ‘got a light saber’ kind of way). I just follow the teachings of the Jedi masters. Now I know Yoda is not real but he is as real to me as Jesus, Yoda just lived and died long before the earth cooled. (LOL) Seriously, the base of the Jedi religion is FEAR. Understand the Jedi are not all good there is the Darth, they use fear for personal gain, the Jedi remove fear for clarity. I have not found one religion that can argue the simple teachings of the Jedi!

    The language of this quote–and many others in the BeliefNet article–is decidedly centered in pluralistic/tribalistic values: a mix of vague, syncretistic New Age spirituality with pre-rational animism.

  • With the publication of The Dharma of Star Wars, the Buddhist connections in the movie are getting quite a bit of attention. Haven’t read it, but the book supposedly “uses George Lucas’ beloved modern saga and the universal discoveries of the Buddha to illuminate each other…” This sounds like it may be a cut above the “I am a Jedi” sort of thing and describing genuinely trans-rational topics with seriousness, albeit apparently with a focus on strictly individual spirituality rather than a more evolutionary, holistic view.
  • Nicq at GenerationSit recently posted a fascinating integral review of Star Wars. (Warning: it contains spoilers.) This integral thinker sees an exploration of the theme of spiritual evolution, with Anakin Skywalker as the central figure of being the one to bring balance to The Force (i.e., the immanent and transcendent force of evolution, or what integralists sometimes call Spirit). The Jedi are not good and the Sith are not evil; when seen in the fuller context of George Lucas’s cosmology, they are both essential elements in the ongoing process of bringing balance to the Force in the course of galactic history.

    The Galactic Republic- and Empire- was a basket case. For hundreds of thousands of years, life had failed to evolve. Technological progress had slowed to a crawl (Coruscant was completely urbanized over one hundred millenia before the Clone Wars)- other than a few technological refinements here or there… all enforced by the Jedi, guardians of all that was ‘natural’… The most evolved creatures in the Galaxy- the Jedi Masters- had made themselves into guardians of tranquility, not the vanguard of evolution. Stopping change was their prerogative… The Sith, on the other hand, represent a twisted form of evolutionary Ascent – a confused [JP: I would say "pathological"] one, similiar to Nazism…

    Star Wars: A morality tale of wicked deeds to avoid? A harbinger of moral relativism? A simple old-fashioned story of good and evil? A guide to mastering one’s fear and obtaining clarity for the self, no light saber required? An opening to deep religious teachings of enlightenment for individuals? Or a tale of cosmic evolution gone temporarily awry, with forces of stagnation locking horns with pathological forces of change in an effort to restore an elusive universal harmony that transcends limited notions of darkness and lightness? In part, your answer depends on where you stand in your own stage of development. The most truly integral answer is, of course, all of the above.

This bear has been banned from Zurich

It’s a sad day, folks, when the good people of Zurich can’t enjoy the sight of a giant dominatrix teddy bear as part of a display of human-sized model bears! A Reuters report says that Beat Seeberger-Quin, art director for the Zurich street display, refused to display the bear because it was too offensive. He said, “This bear is perverse, dominatrix and hardcore. We had to ban it because of the children.”

According to the report, the festival includes 600 decorated teddy bears all over the streets of Zurich and its airport in a project called “Teddy-Summer.” And in all those many miles of corridors, could not they find a single home for this oppressed, misunderstood bear (who’s obviously not a gal to be messed with)? Not even a street in a gay district or a red light district, someplace where adults congregate and children are few and far between?

Regarding potential offensiveness, this bear is nothing compared to the window displays I’ve seen in adult bookstores throughout the country in neighborhoods dominated by pluralist and/or hedonistic values. The traditionalist impulse to protect children from offense is a lame excuse for refusing the display of art, however questionable in the eyes of some, so long as locations can be found where it wouldn’t be too far of a stretch beyond its neighborhood’s tastes.

Sigh. This is not a safe world for giant dominatrix bears. Man, what is the world coming to?

How to prevent AIDS: my response to Andrew Sullivan

Andrew Sullivan makes two HIV-related posts on his blog today. Here’s a brief note about each.

First, Sullivan shares his medical status as an openly HIV positive writer. He notes that people without HIV have a CD4 (T-cell) count between 500 and 1500, and that AIDS is a diagnosis below 200. He also notes that his own T-cell count is an all-time low of 380, and his viral load at an all-time high. He’s addressing the unfortunate situation with a new pill regimen that, he expects, will have minimal side-effects. I hope he’s right and wish him the best.

Another openly HIV positive writer, my own journey with HIV has not been nearly so positive, no pun intended. While becoming infected in the mid-1990s at roughly the same time as Sullivan, my initial T-cell count was 232, and has never risen above 500 despite all treatments. I received an AIDS diagnosis in 1996 and my all-time low T-cell count was recorded this December, when it fell to about 80. Anti-viral medications have caused severely toxic side effects for my health, including three bouts of life-threatening pancreatitis. Most recently, my liver has become dangerously inflamed for reasons that have not been identified, despite a gamut of tests and procedures. Consequently, I have suspended my anti-viral regimen out of fear that the consequences to my liver could be fatal, and this, for the second time in a year.

Second, Sullivan correctly observes that the anti-HIV pill regimen has significantly improved since the mid-1990s. It’s far easier to be positive today than 10 years ago. He comments that another disincentive to getting HIV has gone away. And then, shortly before making diabetes sound an awful lot worse than HIV, he asks: “How are you supposed to scare people when the treatment is this simple, this effective and this easy?” Then he proposes that “better, more positive” ways of encouraging safer sex ought to be found.

You might imagine that I might be thinking that Sullivan’s got a partial and unusually optimistic view of the seriousness of HIV, given that on the surface his own experience seems to have been far less onerous than mine (not to mention that both our experiences have been far less onerous than, say, for the many thousands of gay men who are dead). If that’s what you’re thinking, then you’re right. Sullivan is far from naive about HIV, but he does frequently generalize from his own experience in ways that are unrealistic.

HIV medications don’t work for everyone; I know this first-hand: my virus is resistant or intolerant to most of them. Unlike diabetes, HIV is associated with damning social stigma and pozzies bear the burden of becoming a carrier of a deadly virus. AIDS patients die from many illnesses that not only cause garden variety pain and suffering, but dementia, deformity, and disfiguration. We’ve been known to shrivel up and die from bizarre maladies mostly unknown in the civilized world except among pigs and chickens. Get AIDS, and you can lose your looks, your body, and your mind. As bad as diabetes is, I suspect most people (aside from Sullivan) would choose diabetes.

And yet despite the ongoing seriousness of AIDS (there is no cure), the social dimensions of the disease have changed significantly over the past decade. Safer sex educators and activists need to adapt their techniques to a changing climate that fortunately includes genuine advances in AIDS care … and to a climate that unfortunately includes pundits who downplay the significant costs, dangers, and difficulties of the treatments. Scare tactics (i.e., telling people if they screw without a condom they might actually get AIDS and die!) will continue to be a front-line disease prevention technique.

Most of the behaviors that cause HIV infection (having unsafe sex, sharing dirty needles, etc.) derive from the hedonistic and other lower stages of development. Safer sex efforts need to be focused on encouraging the evolution of consciousness from hedonistic to traditional stages and beyond, and to do so through a variety of flexible and inclusive techniques responsive to the specific situation. We should adopt integral approaches to AIDS prevention that combine diverse and seemingly contradictory solutions–promoting chastity and comprehensive sex education for youth, promoting monogamous relationships among gays and safer sex in non-monogamous relationships, encouraging holistic wellness and spiritual/religious practices (particularly those that build order and structure), effective programs to build self-esteem, effective anti-drug programs, outreach and treatment for sex addiction, fully funding condom distribution programs in places such as bars and bathhouses, and especially ratcheting up the social stigma in the gay community against barebacking (particularly among HIV negative men). Many gays respond negatively to guilt when it comes from the pulpit, but when it’s politically incorrect (i.e., anti-gay) and socially incorrect (i.e., uncool) to bareback, guilt works.

NGLTF’S Foreman says religion is irrational

There’s an important message from Matt Foreman, Executive Director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, in a new article in the Seattle Gay News, “Reframing Issues of Religion, Public Policy, and the LGBT Community.” The message is important because it is so deeply wrong, and yet nevertheless insightful in its own way.

Here’s the message:

“Homophobia is an irrational fear of Gay people. Because religion itself requires an embrace of the irrational – in the sense of the mysterious and paradoxical — it is possible for other irrational beliefs to become canonized under the umbrella of religion. Religiously based anti-Gay attitudes are therefore felt to be a matter of faith. The problem is when beliefs become the basis for harmful actions against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender people — in the form of physical assault, or the more subtle violence of societal exclusion and legal discrimination. Religious leaders who care about justice must help their followers separate the “wonderful irrationality” of faith from the harmful irrationality of fear and hatred of Gay people.” Matt Foreman, Executive Director, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force

Here, Foreman shows a remarkable misunderstanding of the nature of religion, and hence the nature of homophobia. Religion doesn’t require an embrace of the irrational, only religious expressions at pre-rational stages of development require that. The mysterious and the paradoxical may be either trans-rational or pre-rational; to confuse the two is tragic. Foreman’s mistake is called the “pre/trans fallacy,” the confusion of a pre-rational phenomenon with a trans-rational phenomenon, or vice versa. As a consequence of Foreman’s mistake, he lumps all religion together as liable for homophobic beliefs and actions. He then recommends rationalist solutions for homophobia while condescendingly suggesting that religious leaders distinguish between “wonderful” and “harmful” irrationality.

Wonderful irrationality?! I’m sorry, but that’s lame. Irrationality is all harmful and undesirable. It is dishonest to suggest otherwise, if that’s what he really wanted to say. On the other hand, if he was vaguely suggesting that there are really somehow two different kinds of non-rational beliefs, some that are wonderful (i.e., trans-rational) and others that are harmful (i.e., pre-rational), then that actually would have been quite insightful. But if he’d meant that, he should have said so.

The GLBT movement need not disparage religion. And there’s no need to disparage irrationality–that’s a given. The key is to begin to distinguish between pre- and trans-rational forms of religion. To do so means being willing to not only call certain religious expressions pre-rational, but to actually recognize the existence of trans-rational ends and purposes to human endeavors. In other words, to recognize that there is a spiritual dimension to life. This is an unfortunately difficult thing, because there is such a remarkable degree of anti-religious prejudice in the gay community, as well as a widespread failure to differentiate (homophobic) religion and (authentic and non-homophobic) spirituality.

What difference does Foreman’s pre/trans mistake make? Well, let’s put it this way. If you’re a cook making a pot of soup, what do you do if somebody comes along and spits in your pot? That’s gross and nasty, so you gotta throw the whole thing out. You’ve got no way of separating the soup from the spit.

It seems to me that Foreman’s view of religion is like that cook’s. Religion is in essence irrational and homophobia is irrational and–this is the key–there is no rational principle for separating the two. Therefore, his advice to religious leaders to try to axe the homophobia while enjoying the “wonderful irrationality” of their religions strikes me as somewhat like the skinny cook saying, “good soup, yum yum, eat up boys!”

Foreman isn’t wrong that much of religion, and all of its homophobia, is pre-rational. The problem is that he turns a critical eye to the pre-rational beliefs and actions of others while seemingly ignoring the pre-rational beliefs and actions within the gay community–including widespread anti-religious bigotry. It’s the old speck-in-the-eye, judge-not problem.

The NGLTF does good work and should be credited for bringing together a closer look at the role that religious institutions must play in healing homophobia. But the approach–in this statement by Foreman and in others–is disappointingly wrong. In attacking pre-rational attitudes such as homophobia, gay rights organizations should take a balanced, integral approach. The significant work ahead for these organizations isn’t just about fine tuning the messaging–it’s about transforming their consciousness.

Rick Santorum, the man liberals love to hate

Rick Santorum is one of the most dangerous and destructive men in the United States Senate. But not for the reasons that his impassioned critics frequently suggest. At his best, the traditionalist/rationalist senator is also an exemplar of the sort of passionate idealism that will be required to revitalize a wayward political institution. Something of this paradox almost, but not quite, comes out in “The Believer,” a fine, mostly pluralist profile of the high-ranking GOP senator by Michael Sokolove in The New York Times.

Santorum’s critics often say he’s a religious fundamentalist who wants to establish nothing less than a right-wing theocracy in America. Sokolove interviewed Barry Lynn, the the executive director of rationalist Americans United for Separation of Church and State, only to find that he “was almost apoplectic in talking about Santorum. ‘He is a very, very radical individual,’ he said, ‘who wants to impose his religious dogma through law and legislation on everybody in America.’”

Sokolove also tells us that the Democratic Senator Charles Schumer believes Santorum has become the apotheosis of the “uncompromising, hard-right senator.” Pluralist/rationalist Democrats everywhere want this man beaten. Hedonist/pluralist writers have even gone so far as to popularize a disgusting neologism as a protest against the senator’s homophobic remarks.

As strongly as I disagree with some of the senator’s politically conservative views, nowhere in the record could I find any indication that he has sponsored legislation to require belief in the Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation or any other religious dogma. Indeed, some of his most successful legislation has been co-sponsored with Democrats. For example, Santorum and John Kerry were the lead sponsors of the Workplace Religious Freedom Act; Santorum and Joseph Lieberman are working on anti-poverty legislation. Since when is working to help the poor or fighting religious intolerance considered a theological dogma?

Rick Santorum isn’t a destructive force because he wants to bring moral and religious principles into politics. He’s destructive because some of the most important principles that he wants to fight for are wrong, incoherent, intolerant, prejudiced, and–yes–extremely homophobic. He damages our polity because he wants to insert religion into politics in a fundamentally pre-rational way.

As an example of Santorum’s unfortunate pre-rational policy views, if Sokolove’s profile is correct, the GOP senator would allow the federal government to actively sponsor and promote discrimination against job seekers who are non-Christians, nonbelievers, divorced, gay or of “loose moral character.” And all this in the name of “faith-based programs.” He would bring government into the business of sponsoring traditionalist sorts of discriminations that are lower in the evolutionary order than the rational stage (not to mention just plain uncool).

In this piece today, pluralist Jeff Sharlet of The Revealer weblog says that The New York Times went too far in its efforts to be fair and balanced. They let stand dubious points and outright falsehoods because they’re afraid of getting attacked by conservatives for a liberal bias. Sharlet’s right about this, so far as I can tell, and raises excellent points about Santorum’s homophobia and the interplay between patronage and policy in the senator’s anti-poverty initiatives. However, Sharlet’s post occasionally gets a bit mean. Is it really necessary to harp on the “man on dog” reference? Is Santorum’s claim that the founding fathers believed in traditional values really “silly”? Just picking a nit or two.

Pluralist and hedonist liberals love to hate Santorum, because they project onto him all the worst elements of traditionalist values that they’ve rejected in their own development and give him none of the credit for the positive traditional values that he espouses. With Jesse Helms and Newt Gingrich gone, the dutifully religious Pennsylvanian father of six has become a convenient target for venting rage and vitriolic rants. They would do well to cultivate an attitude apparently held by Santorum himself:

[Santorum] respects Democrats like Representative Henry Waxman of California; Senator Russell Feingold of Wisconsin; and the late Senator Paul Wellstone of Minnesota — determined, passionate liberals. “They’re out there because they really believe this,” he said. “This is from their core. They’re true believers, God bless them. That’s what political discourse is all about. You bring in your moral code, or worldview, and I bring in mine.”

Respect Santorum for his passion and his fervor and the legitimate part of his values, but don’t give an inch to this dangerous man when it comes to state-sponsored discrimination or any other regressive, pre-rational policy disaster. And when Democrats and moderate Republicans find within themselves the spirituality-based bedrock conviction held by Rick Santorum, then perhaps we’ll finally begin to see some life in the Senate.

Stuart Davis

Musician Stuart Davis posts about LOVE LOVE LOVE…:

“Can you believe we get to live right now, right here, in this amazing, Big MIND-blowing unfolding of God in asphalt, flowers, jet airplanes, transvestites, and elegant political upheaval? Can we read the Scripture that is written every day on each animate and inanimate object in the World? In our minds? It’s all the Word. Make no mistake, this is THE pivotal opportunity, and our Life (one life, singular) is in the dead center of it. Don’t blow it off, don’t wait for something else. Let’s die for Love, right now, right here, and dance the Dharma while we have these legs. The new sutras are on FM radio.”

Rising above the fray on abortion

On abortion, Thomas R. Suozzi is my kind of Democrat. According to this piece by E. J. Dionne Jr. in The Washington Post, Suozzi’s a Nassau County executive, a churchgoing Catholic, and a believer that abortion should stay legal.

Suozzi gave a speech recently at Adelphi University where, as Dionne put it, “he gambl[ed] on offending everyone.” The pluralist/rationalist/traditionalist speech not only defended the legality of abortion, he proposed that his Long Island county spend big bucks to make it easier for women to avoid abortions.

“As a Democrat, I do not often find it easy to talk with other Democrats about our need to affirm our commitment to the respect for life and how we need to emphasize our party’s firm belief in the worth of every human being,” he said. “As a Catholic, I do not often find it easy to talk with other Catholics about my feeling that abortion should and will remain safe and legal, and that we should instead focus our efforts on creating a better world where there are fewer unplanned pregnancies and where women who face unplanned pregnancies receive greater support and where men take more responsibility for their actions.”

Suozzi is hardly the only pro-choice Democrat striking a moderate tone on abortion.Hilary Clinton gave a much noticed speech seeking to claim a “middle ground” on abortion. Even John Kerry tells Democrats they should moderate their abortion stance.

Cynics dismiss these moves as phony political ploys rather than a sincere dedication to valuing the dignity of life. However, in the not-so-distant past, the Democratic party has shown great flexibility on the issue. Democrats were nearly able to secure a vote to ban third-trimester abortions (unfortunately bipartisan support for this effort seemed to vanish into thin air). Perhaps it could happen again, we may hope.

Pro-choice Democrats shouldn’t compromise their values; they should change them. More precisely, they should expand them so they become more idealistic, more authentically progressive. Passionately protecting the worth of every human being should be a progressive cause. I’m not talking about finding a middle ground, but a higher ground.

To overcome the values gap on abortion, Democrats shouldn’t “get religion,” they should “get spirituality.” They need a progressive civic spirituality with enough substance to guide and motivate political action, but not so much baggage as to play favorites among religions or alienate the secular. (Even atheists and agnostics can be spiritual. It all depends on what you mean by spiritual, doesn’t it? A little vagueness is quite useful in matters of civic spirituality.)

The abortion challenge for Democrats is to bring liberal values (“It’s just a decision between a woman and her doctor!”) together with authentic spiritual values (“We need to emphasize our party’s firm belief in the worth of every human being.”) An integral perspective is the best way to do this, for it gives us a clear way of taking three distinct angles on the worth of the fetus and of all life–ground value, intrinsic value, and relative value. This approach shows us that a moderate abortion stand can be defended on the basis of a seamless philosophical ethic of life. Democratic proponents of particular religious traditions (like Suozzi, a Roman Catholic) can then translate the gist of the integral approach into terms that make sense to their own theological sensibilities.

Democrats should affirm the fetus’s value (i.e., the ground value, or its worth from the point of view of Spirit) as an absolutely beautiful, unique, and precious creation of Spirit. All the glory that is the Divine is found in the unborn child.But that’s not the only perspective we need to consider. The life of the fetus should be seen as valuable and worthy of our protection, care, and love (that is, the fetus has intrinsic value–worth as a manifestation of Spirit at a particular level of depth). This doesn’t turn into a traditionalist stance on abortion (“Abortion is murder!”), because all sentient life has various degrees of intrinsic value. And the more depth that is enfolded into the being, the more intrinsic value there is. A newborn baby has somewhat more depth than a third-trimester fetus, and a second-trimester fetus has somewhat more depth than a first-trimester fetus, etc. When you look at the relative value of the fetus, it must be weighed against the mother’s value (i.e., the impact of pregnancy on her life and health).Finally, an integral look at the value of the fetus should also consider its relative value. It is legitimate to consider the value of the fetus for others–the parents and society (including prospective adoptive parents). Especially, the mother’s needs must be given due weight. For example, it is legitimate to say that a fetus is worth (relatively) less in a society which neglects mothers than in a society that strongly supports women through all phases of the child-bearing and child-raising process.What’s needed in the abortion debate are political approaches that strive for the common ground that respects both the valuable life of the mother and the valuable life of the fetus. Speaking of “respecting life” as some courageous pro-choice Democrats are doing is a good start. But these Democrats need an integral perspective in order to demonstrate how a moderate abortion stand is the most progressive and most truly pro-life. This doesn’t require dragging religion into politics, but it does mean using more complex analyses that honor both spiritual absolutes and this-worldly realism.